KYIV, Ukraine—As Secretary of State

Antony Blinken

prepares for a high-stakes meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday, Ukraine’s foreign minister warned that his country’s soldiers and civilians could “pay with their blood” for any delays to a sanctions package that could be imposed on Moscow immediately should it choose to invade.

The meeting in Geneva follows a string of meetings Mr. Blinken’s deputy,

Wendy Sherman,

held earlier this month with European allies and her Russian counterpart at NATO’s headquarters, followed by more gatherings Mr. Blinken held this week in Kyiv and Berlin.

Russia, which has massed roughly 100,000 troops, has demanded that Ukraine never become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and that the alliance roll back its presence in Eastern European countries to their level soon after the Cold War. Mr. Lavrov said he expected written responses from the U.S. and other NATO members to those demands, something Mr. Blinken outwardly rejected on Wednesday.

The U.S. and other NATO members have rejected the demands, saying Russia is raising what it knows are unacceptable requests of the West as a pretext for attacking Ukraine. Russia has demanded written responses from the West, but Mr. Blinken said earlier this week he wouldn’t provide any statements in writing.

Ukrainian officials aren’t certain that Russia will stage a large-scale attack on their territory but do fear a range of malign activities by Moscow, which in 2014 seized the country’s Crimean peninsula and helped foment a breakaway movement in its east.


What message should Secretary of State Antony Blinken convey to his Russian counterpart? Join the conversation below.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister

Dmytro Kuleba,

in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, hailed the efforts by his counterparts in the U.S. and Europe to help his country and find a solution to Russia’s increasingly hostile actions, which President Biden on Wednesday warned could result in an invasion. But he said Ukraine is now a “half-encircled country,” with Russian forces in Crimea and stationed along its borders to the east and north in Belarus. He said Moscow’s aggression already warrants penalties.

“Ideally, some sanctions should be imposed for what Russia has already done,” he said.

Western allies have so far “taken the position that sanctions will be imposed after Russia invades,” he added. “If that is the approach that you have taken, then at least you have to be ready to push the button because you will not have any time for procedures…for doing all the bureaucracy.”

Mr. Kuleba’s comments come after he and Mr. Blinken discussed the escalating security situation and international efforts to reach a diplomatic breakthrough with Moscow.

President Biden said on Wednesday that the U.S. is ready to unleash sanctions against Russia if President Vladimir Putin makes a move against Ukraine. Biden also laid out a possible diplomatic resolution. Photo: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

On Wednesday, President Biden said in a press conference marking his first year in office that he believed Russia “will move in” to Ukraine, although he added that it remains unclear whether President

Vladimir Putin

has decided to do so. He also acknowledged divisions within NATO on a range of issues, and expressed his concern over the disunity, noting, “It’s very important that we keep everyone in NATO on the same page.”

The U.S. and its allies in NATO have vowed to impose crippling sanctions on Moscow if it further invades Ukraine, but an agreement on a sanctions package has proved challenging since European economies are more closely linked to that of Russia, and sanctions on its financial or energy sector could reverberate across the continent.

But differences have emerged among NATO allies in Europe. French President

Emmanuel Macron

has been pushing the European Union for years to develop its own capability on defense, and this month assumed the bloc’s rotating presidency, which gives him a new lever to advance the idea. Such plans, however, have met little enthusiasm from Germany and other major EU members, which have been happy to let the U.S. take the lead in deterring Russian aggression on the bloc’s eastern flank.

Mr. Blinken has promised a massive sanctions-led response against Russia if it invades, and U.S. officials say Washington and its European partners have worked out a plan to deploy financial punishments that will hurt sensitive sectors of the Russian economy. In Berlin on Thursday, Mr. Blinken with German Foreign Minister

Annalena Baerbock,

French Foreign Minister

Jean-Yves Le Drian

and a senior U.K. minister, James Cleverly, to discuss the crisis ahead of his meeting with Mr. Lavrov.

Mr. Kuleba said Ukraine’s North American and European partners are considering penalties on Russia’s financial sector, although the details remain unclear as diplomats work through the logistics. He said he respects concerns expressed to him by European officials over the potential impact of cutting Russian banks off from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or Swift, payments system, a global network used by almost all financial institutions to wire money.

“I understand your reluctance, because Swift is indeed a painful thing,” he said, recalling conversations he has had with European counterparts. “But I’m afraid that if Russia sees your weakness and your reluctance and your hesitation, that will work as a temptation for them to move militarily.”

“I do not want Ukrainian soldiers and Ukrainian civilians to pay with their blood for their…delay in bureaucratic procedures,” he added.

Mr. Biden on Wednesday also said that it “is not very likely” that Ukraine will be admitted to NATO in the near term. Russia has said that it won’t tolerate Ukrainian membership of the military alliance, nor does it accept any perceived expansion of it, whether in the former of military exercises or other activities, into Ukraine.

This raises the question of whether Ukraine would then be urged to make any concessions as a way to reach an agreement with Russia and de-escalate the situation, something Mr. Kuleba rejected.

He said some initial working discussions took place in November and December about whether any concessions were available around the implementation of the Minsk Protocol, an agreement that sought to end war that erupted in 2014 in Ukraine’s Donbas region. But he said that the discussion “ended where it started,” and no partner nations have pressured Ukraine to make any concessions.

Write to Vivian Salama at

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